How the Dallas Cowboys are abandoning the traditional 1-tech DT

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 11: Defensive end Jeremy Mincey #92 of the Dallas Cowboys during the second half of the NFL game against the New England Patriots at AT&T Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 11: Defensive end Jeremy Mincey #92 of the Dallas Cowboys during the second half of the NFL game against the New England Patriots at AT&T Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys have made some curious personnel decisions this offseason leading many of us to believe the traditional 1-tech is a thing of the past.

The Dallas Cowboys have quietly made some moves this offseason to change the way their defense is run. The 1-technique defensive tackle, already undervalued in Rod Marinelli’s system, appears to have fallen even further from grace, and now looks as though it’s nothing more than a situational piece.

The NFL is about exploiting weaknesses and finding mismatches. Cornerbacks who can’t tackle are run at. Safeties who can’t cover are thrown at. And stout linemen who can’t chase the ball (like a 1-tech) are just simply run around.

We’re in the age of versatility right now. Defensive players who are one-dimensional are too easily exploited. Today’s modern age attack is specifically designed to take advantage of overloaded defenses and to feast on one-dimensional players. That’s why the Cowboys have been phasing out the one-dimensional players and replacing them with long, athletic, multidimensional players.

And that’s why the traditional 1-tech DT may be a thing of the past.

No interest whatsoever

Much to many of our dismay, the Dallas Cowboys completely ignored the 1-tech position this offseason. Despite many affordable options available in free agency, Dallas took a hard pass on the whole lot – only making a modest play for the ultra-versatile, DT Terrell McClain.

The NFL Draft was absolutely loaded with viable 1-tech DTs as well. But the Dallas Cowboys never appeared interested in them. Instead, the Cowboys targeted a couple rangy linebackers and a lean edge player to upgrade their defense.

Brian Price and Richard Ash appear to be the only true “pluggers” on the team who are suited to 2-gap at the 1-technique. And it’s likely only one of them makes the final 53-man cut (my money is on the former). Some may point to Maliek Collins as a 1-tech, but the guy was drafted as an under tackle, played his best NFL football as an under tackle, and figures to play more 1-gap than 2-gap going forward.

Run-heavy teams with dominant lines will still need to be stopped with the traditional 1-tech. And that’s what I think Brian Price’s part-time role will be. But in the age of 11 personnel, RPO attacks, and stretch running plays, that role is going to be a bit part.

Related Story: 1-Gap vs 2-Gap defense

What the Dallas Cowboys are doing

This offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have been avoiding those stout defensive tackles and have been investing in versatile defensive linemen (Kony Ealy), athletic edge players (Dorance Armstrong), and long rangy linebackers (Leighton Vander Esch).

Traditionally speaking, the Cowboys only field two linebackers at a time. That’s because they play out of a nickel defense more than they play out of their base 4-3. Then why did they raise expectations for LB Jaylon Smith and in the same breath add a third blue-chip LB in Leighton Vander Esch?

Because they intend to play nickel defense AND play three LBs AT THE SAME TIME.

The 3-3-5

Midway through the 2017 season, it was clear RPO was on its way up. Some of the top teams in the NFL were using it to great success. As such, NFL fans like me started learning it and following its use in the college ranks where it’s been a big thing for quite a while now (check out MGOBLOG for some good explanations). One thing is abundantly clear – linebackers are gold.

In nickel situations, teams can field five defensive backs and essentially replace the 1-tech NT with an extra linebacker. Sure that makes them less girthy against a run up the middle, but it makes the defense so much more dynamic in other ways – it neutralizes virtually all other forms of attack. And on 3rd and long, those other attacks are what you typically fear.

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The Pass-Rush improves

Some may think that going to just three down linemen up front equates to a diminished pass rush. That couldn’t be further from the truth because nothing is stopping the defense from sending a fourth pass-rusher. The difference is the offense has no idea where it’s coming from.

Blitzing the SAM or WILL is probably more effective than sending starting RDE, Tyrone Crawford, anyway. A full head of steam and different angle make that rusher much more dangerous on the edge or up the middle. His pre-snap positioning also make him better placed in coverage should he be the conflict defender on the given play.

The Dallas Cowboys have shown an undeniable lack of interest in the 1-tech and have been making moves to play with three starting linebackers. We’ve seen college football combat the RPO attack by replacing the NT with a LB already. It stands to reason the NFL (and specifically the Dallas Cowboys) are following suit and intend to use all three of their linebackers more than they have in the past.

Next: Three reasons Dak Prescott will be great in 2018

The traditional “plugger” NT is a thing of the past. The Dallas Cowboys appear to regulating it to a part-time situational status. Times are a changin’ and the Dallas Cowboys appear to be ahead of the curve this time.